At his first Commonwealth Games in 2018 the weightlifter had the freedom that comes with being a relative unknown.
But by the end of the Gold Coast games, New Zealanders knew the name David Liti, after he won gold in the 105kg+ division at just 21 years old.
The gentle giant also won hearts and minds on the Gold Coast – awarded the David Dixon Award for sportsmanship shown towards his injured weightlifting rival.
The Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, which gets underway on the 28th of July, are going to feel very different for Liti, who’ll be competing in the 109+kg division.
The 26-year-old admitted he felt the pressure that inevitably comes when expectations are high.
“As much as I try to deny it deep down inside, I know for myself that the pressure is a lot bigger this time around.
“Because I am ahead of my competitors by about 15 kilos I think the pressure is a lot bigger, because everybody just expects me to come out and win.
“You can’t really deny that they will be working hard from their last competitions and now they’ll be coming out to give me a run for my money.
“Not that I’ll give out easily. I will definitely die trying for this gold but I do feel the pressure is there. But at the same time I don’t think I perform without pressure, so with this pressure I know that I’ll pull something out.”
Liti, who performed well with a fifth place at the Tokyo Olympics last year, said the wait before a lifter headed out to the stage was intense.
He said it depended on the athlete whether they liked to have their coach give them last minute advice or not.
“Some athletes don’t like it when coaches or people talk to them while they’re concentrating back stage. Some athletes like that kind of comforting and assurance within their concentration periods, but for myself, I like to just keep my thoughts to myself.
“If I really need help or comforting I reach out to my coach Tina but yeah most of the time, I just like to keep my headspace the same and not change anything.”
Long-time coach Tina Ball will be by Liti’s side in Birmingham and won’t say anything to Liti before he heads out for a lift.
“Because words and all that kind of stuff can change one person’s mood and thoughts going into a lift, so it’s more of the relationship between the coach and an athlete.
“Tina understands, just let me be and whatever works for my concentration works, and yeah she just puts the numbers up there for me and I do my job and I go out there and lift the weights.”
After a somewhat sterile environment at the Tokyo Olympics when Covid-19 protocols were in full force, Liti is looking forward to feeding off a crowd again.
“To have a little bit of noise around and people cheering it really does help with the fire and with the push.
“Hopefully it’s a lively loud one, the same as on the Gold Coast but I guess we’ll just find out once we get there.”
Born in Auckland to Tongan parents, Liti grew up in Tonga before returning to New Zealand with his family aged 10.
His parents moved back to Tonga in 2012 to continue with their business.
The last time he saw his parents was just before Covid hit New Zealand in early 2020.
“It’s been a few years and I’m really happy to hear that they might be opening up their borders soon so I can go back for a visit and relax for a little bit.”
Liti recently spent some time in the Netherlands, where he trained with Dutch weightlifter Enzo Kuworge, who is one of the top 10 super heavyweights in the world and a good friend.
“I met him two or three years ago and he came out firing and I was like ‘man, this kid is good’ and we’ve just been friends since.”
Liti and Kuworge both competed in their first Olympics last year in the +109kg event, finishing fifth and sixth respectively. Kuworge describes Liti as his “twin.”
A talented rugby player growing up, Liti decided to fully concentrate on weightlifting when he realised how far he could go with it.
“We all know in New Zealand that the number one thing you want to be as a kid is a rugby player. But there came a time in 2014 when I got a silver placing in the Oceanias in my first international competition.
“The furthest I had been with my rugby at that time was representing Auckland, and I just really thought I should give this a shot, it’s something that I’m good at and I can’t really deny it.
“Even though I wasn’t a big fan of the sport back then, I thought it’ll be worthwhile if I fully concentrate and put 100 percent effort into it.”
Now an Olympian, Liti was right to trust his instinct and will be in a good position to defend his Commonwealth Games crown in Birmingham.